Since training camp opened and until the initial roster cuts were made, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed four players with veteran experience to join their 80-man roster. All four of them remain with the organization, with one of them on the 53-man roster. Another made the initial 53-man roster, but was moved to the practice squad when the opportunity to add somebody else arose.
These moves are not coincidental, as head coach Mike Tomlin talked about yesterday when speaking to reporters. They brought in available veterans at this time when in other years they may not have knowing that they would potentially remain available to them via the practice squad even if they fail to make the 53-man roster.
While discussing the decision to keep Devlin Hodges as a fourth quarterback on the practice squad (after having initially made the 53-man roster), he said, “in this Covid environment, you can’t insulate yourself enough with quality depth at all positions”.
“That’s something that we’ve worked extremely hard to do”, he added. “The utilization of vested veterans on the practice squad is another avenue that we thoughtfully delved into, all in an effort to insulate us and to fortify our depths in this uncertain environment”.
Veteran running back Wendell Smallwood was the first vested veteran to sign, on July 28. He made a positive initial impression with everybody, but would also miss some time during training camp. The Steelers opted to retain Jaylen Samuels as the fourth running back on the 53-man roster, but they re-signed Smallwood, in addition to Trey Edmunds, to the practice squad, now having six running backs in total. Everybody except Kerrith Whyte at the position remained.
The second veteran to sign was safety Curtis Riley on August 3. Due to practice time missed by starting strong safety Terrell Edmunds, Riley got the opportunity to work with the first-team unit a good amount. It quickly became apparent he would make the team, and then did.
That was until Sean Davis was released by Washington. The Steelers signed him and released Riley, re-signing him to the practice squad. With Jordan Dangerfield a necessary special teamer and Marcus Allen essentially now being linebacker depth, it was the only option.
Jayrone Elliott was signed at outside linebacker on August 27, about two weeks ago. He spent time in camp and on the 53-man roster a year ago, so they were already familiar with him. While they only kept four outside linebackers on the roster, Elliott stuck on the practice squad.
The final player brought in was wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, though he was not a vested veteran, with two years of experience. He did make the 53-man roster as the fifth wide receiver and may be their primary kick returner.
Riley, Smallwood, and Elliott not only all stuck on the practice squad, the Steelers also selected all three of them among their four slots that they can use to designate practice squad players for protection from being signed by other teams for Week One. They likely will continue to be selected for protection going forward.